Canadian Werewolves

By Derek Newman-Stille

Canada is fundamentally a hybridised place, embodying multiple differences in the same country and torn/strengthened by contrasting pulls of culture. This hybridity, and ability to alternate between different forms is best expressed in the werewolf and this is why the werewolf has become such an interesting medium for Canadian duality or multiplicity. We are multiple and ever changing, shifting between diverse forms and expressions. Canada’s bilingual and bicultural policy embeds in it a binary, a duality that echoes the transformation of the werewolf. It’s multicultural policy shows the fluctuations of identity and the multiplicity of identity that the werewolf can also express. We are not set and unchanging, but, rather, Canada defines itself by its changeability, by its multiplicity just as the werewolf is defined by its ability to shift and take new forms. The werewolf represents the challenge of balancing a multiplicity and shifting of existence and the idea that shifts of form are not easy, but require constant vigilance and self awareness.

Here are a few werewolf stories that have really spoken to me and helped me to question existence and be comfortable with the changeability of identity and the ability to live in the question and not try to force anything into my ideas of stability.

Kelley Armstrong’s Bitten

A great book that uses the werewolf as a symbol of feminine empowerment. It positions the heroine as the only female werewolf in the world, dealing with the conflicts between her own desire for the ‘normal life’ and the call of a new form of heritage. She challenges the masculinity inherent in a lot of werewolf horror.

Tanya Huff’s Blood Trail

Deals with issues of intolerance and religious persecution. Set in a small town, this novel is about the secrecy of identity, and the need to hide aspects of the self that are different from the mainstream culture around oneself.

Sparkle Hayter’s Naked Brunch

Treats the werewolf as a point between the medical and the mystical. Hayter’s werewolves are subject to medical treatment, control, and suppression.

Charles de Lint’s Wolf Moon

Positions the struggle between assumption about identity and the truth of identity. This is a novel that reveals that the surface aspects of identity are often the least important.

Claude Lalumiere’s Roman Predator’s Chimeric Odyssey in Objects of Worship

Werewolf meets alien in apocalyptic future. This werewolf, already hybridised, encounters an alien that is based on assimilation, bringing new and unique biological forms into its own body and incorporating diversity into itself.

Margaret Atwood’s Wereman in Journals of Susana Moodie

Positions the man as fundamentally werewolfish, embodying a changeable identity and shifting from when he is inside the house, to when he is outside the home in a space that he defines as one in which he can express his masculinity.

Douglas Smith’s Out of the Light in Chimerascope.

Creates a distinctly urban were creatures and causes the reader and characters to question the image of the natural were, out in the scary woods and reminds us that the city itself is a frightening environment of changeability and shifts. Not every creature of darkness lurks in the shadows and shadows need light to take form.

John Fawcett (director)Ginger Snaps (2000)

This film  plays with ideas of gender and the coming-of-age theme through the werewolf medium. It deals with ideas of sisterhood, family, and the straining bonds of family that come with radical change.

True Norse Strong and Free…

A Review of Chadwick Ginther’s Thunder Road(Raven Stone, Forthcoming 2012)

Thunder Road cover photo courtesy of Chadwick Ginther

By Derek Newman-Stille

Had I not known that this was his debut novel, I would have thought that Chadwick Ginther’s Thunder Road was written by an experienced novelist. His characters were well developed, his plot strong and thought provoking. After reading the first two chapters, I flipped back to the front of the book and said “thank goodness” as I read “Book One of the Thunder Road Trilogy”. I can look forward to two more books in this world that Ginther has created.

As an occasional scholar of Norse literature, I am always worried when a modern author tries to tackle Norse material, but Ginther was able to demonstrate a firm and diverse knowledge of Norse cosmologies and the complex issues of Norse literature and bring them into a Canadian context. He demonstrated advanced knowledge of Norse myths and the issues that underlie many Norse tales and was able to create his own story without feeling the need that authors often do to re-write myths in order to fit them into their book’s plot. Instead, Ginther creates his own plot that seamlessly integrates elements of Norse folklore and makes it seem like a Norse context is comfortable and familiar for any Canadian reader. His book also includes a quick guide at the end for any reader who needs a reminder of an element of Norse myth.

This story is essentially one of blendings, mixings, and integrations. His plot combines the superhero narrative with the mythically modern. Chadwick Ginther’s hero Ted begins as a worker at the Alberta oil sands and this ecological travesty releases Surtur, the Norse fire giant and destructive force, into the world. Ted’s exposure to the supernatural makes him a marked man, perpetually tainted by the otherworldly and therefore of interest to the various mythical beings inhabiting our world. This taint is then bodily written upon him as dwarves capture him and tattoo supernatural symbols over his body in gold and metallic blue ink. He is literally inscribed with the supernatural and his body is infused with the otherworldly. He becomes a connection between the human world and the mythic,  uncomfortably trapped between them, suspended between the past, present, and future. It is not surprising that, as a link between the different realms of time, he comes into contact with the Norns, the mistresses of fate who can see past, present, and future and have their own agenda for shaping a new world.

Trapped between the old mythic world of the past and the new industrial, hypermodern world, Ted embodies the classical Canadian coming of age story – trying to define oneself in a new life elsewhere while carrying the baggage and responsibilities of the past. His new lover in the novel, the youngest of the Norns, Tilda (herself a symbol of the requirements of the past and the desire to make her own future) sharpens this conflict between past family responsibilities and the need to create oneself anew elsewhere. Chadwick Ginther illustrates in his novel that the coming of age narrative is not one limited to the arbitrary barrier between youth and adulthood we have created, but is rather a continual process – perpetually coming to ourselves in a new identity while struggling with past visions of ourselves,  and midlife Ted as well as young Tilda can both equally engage in this process of self discovery and struggling to come to terms with change.

Author photo courtesy of Chadwick Ginther

Ginther plays with ambiguities in his novel, raising questions about notions of nostalgia for the past, ideas of progress, the limits of knowledge, and ideas of trust, and this is most embodied in the figure of Loki who is the physical representation of the ambiguous. Loki, the major trickster figure of the Norse cosmology has the ability to shift shapes, to change and alter himself, showing that gender, shape, form, and even humanity is variable, changing, and subject to question. He is like a walking question mark in this novel, always opening things to speculation and causing the reader to re-assess their ideas. Ginther handled the figure of Loki (one that is notoriously difficult for the modern audience with their binary notions of good-evil, male-female, trustworthy-liar to grasp) extremely well and although I enjoyed the superheroic character Ted, my favorite character in this story was Loki, who represented Chadwick Ginther’s playful side and desire to question everything and bring his audience on a speculative ride into new territories of the mind.

In Thunder Road, Chadwick Ginther opens a doorway to the mythical in the modern world, letting his reader almost believe that at the edges of our reality, in the most mundane of places, there lurks the remnants and lingering presence of the Otherworld. Like the character Ted, written on and inscribed forever by dwarvish ink, the reader is forever marked by their encounter with the supernatural.

To find out more about Chadwick Ginther and his current projects, please visit his site at .  Check out RavenStone press for more information about Thunder Road at

Sometimes Research Bites…

A review of Kelley Armstrong’s The List in Imaginarium 2012: The Best Canadian Speculative Writing (ChiZine Publications, 2012) and Evolve Two (Edge, 2011).
By Derek Newman-Stille

Photo of Derek Newman-Stille and Kelley Armstrong at Trent University’s Alumni House

In The List Kelley Armstrong re-introduces Toronto vampire Zoe Takano (from Broken, “Zen & the Art of Vampirism,” and “Learning Curve”) with her characteristic wit and sarcasm. Zoe finds herself (fortunately) absent from a researcher’s list of ‘vampires’ in the Toronto area. When Zoe discovers that the anthropologist who wrote the paper (a combination of anthropological studies on vampirism and a study of the disease porphyria) is giving a lecture in Toronto, she decides to take her friend and former attempted murderer/vampire slayer  Brittany (yes, Buffy the Vampire Slayer is certainly lurking in this character’s formation) to the lecture to help to stir her interest in higher education.

Armstrong explores what happens when real vampires meet ‘wannabes’, youth who have taken on the identity of the vampire to form their notions of selfhood and create themselves from creative fiction. This particular story focuses on the idea of identity formation and its importance for youth both with Zoe trying to help Brittany find a path for the future, and with the general desire of the attendees to the lecture (mostly young adults) to find their identity in the fiction of the vampire.

With Ms. Armstrong’s classic Joss-Whedonesque humour, she intertextually mocks Twilight when one of the characters asks Zoe “Can you sparkle?… I hear that’s what real vampires do these days.” This itself is a commentary on youth culture and the role of fiction in identity formation, interacting with the main plot of the story around Brittany’s quest for identity and a future. Unlike those around her, Brittany is not interested (any longer, since she used to want to be a Vampire Slayer) in constructing her identity based on fictional archetypes like Buffy, but is rather interested in finding her own role in the world and exploring the truth of the fantastical world around her.

The role of identity in this tale is not limited to Brittany’s experience. Zoe also engages in a dialogue of identity when she discusses the role of heritage in the lecture. She mentions that this lecture on the vampire (her people) reminds her of hearing samurai stories in her youth as her grandfather explained her heritage:  “Vampire folklore is the same – thrilling, vaguely accurate accounts of my race’s history”. Armstrong illustrates that notions of identity from heritage are significant, but are always going to be partially idealised and laced with fiction.

The context of the story around an academic lecture is significant itself as university has become, in many senses, Canadian society’s ‘coming of age ceremony’ and the quest for self-discovery that youth engage in to become considered adults. But this story also explores another role of academics: the role of academics in shaping and creating notions of heritage through their research into history (and in this case folklore). She reminds academics of the role that they play in identity formation and notions of selfhood, but she makes that risk a real threat on the body of the professor by having him encounter a student who is violent in their assertion of a vampiric identity. Armstrong reminds us that identity is a big issue for youth and that our discussions of identity questions can have harmful effects.

This story reminded me of an encounter after a lecture I gave on the topic of the werewolf, where, following the lecture I was asked by a biology student “So, how do you conduct your research… Do you set up a blind and go into the field like a biologist would.” I replied “Well, since werewolves are fictional, I suppose I do a lot of fieldwork in books. They sort of serve as a blind because the characters can’t actually see me…” I realised after this encounter that it was basically a plot starter for a horror film – where the researcher says “I don’t believe in monsters” and almost inevitably the monster proves their existence.” From that moment on, I started introducing my lectures with “I don’t believe in monsters, but if there are any monsters in the audience, please accept my apologies for this statement and understand that I am willing to re-assess my opinion without needing to be bitten”.

Note to other researchers: beware of putting yourselves into plot lines for horror movies by accident.

Needles and Fangs

A Review of Nancy Kilpatrick’s The Vechi Barbat in Vampyric Variations (Edge, Forthcoming October 2012).
By Derek Newman-Stille

Although set in a psychiatric facility and featuring a Romanian protagonist, Nancy Kilpatrick’s short story The Vechi Barbat is fundamentally a very Canadian tale containing traditional Can Lit themes. Her story is about the struggle between tradition and modernity, the tug that the traditions of the past have on a person while they seek out the desired spaces of the future. Kilpatrick’s narrator, Nita, is a woman from a small Romanian village who has been told that her destiny is to look after the village old man, the Vechi Barbat, who is trapped in a cage, doesn’t age, and needs blood to survive. She wants to go to university and study anthropology, to move away from her village that is mostly populated by the elderly (most of the young have moved away to pursue futures elsewhere).

Nita sees her village as trapped, stuck with outmoded ideas and mired in the past. She seeks to educate her village on the new ideas and thoughts she has adopted while abroad, to teach them that their mythology of the Vechi Barbat cannot possibly be true, but tradition retains its hold on her, showing her that no one can totally escape from family and their past. This is the classic Canadian theme of the desire to get away from family obligations to create a new life and the essential and irresistible draw of the past, of home, and of tradition. Like many protagonists in Can Lit, Nita finds that she can’t escape from home, but is rather torn between tradition and new ideologies – suspended in an uncontrolled present that is a tear in the timeline between future and past.

Kilpatrick’s tale is set in a psychiatric institution, the perfect space for someone torn between future and past, disrupted and disturbed. Like the Vechi Barbat, she is confined, trapped, and the psychiatric hospital is strangely reminiscent of the vampire himself – cold, white, sterile, and fundamentally dead. She is controlled by medication, where he was controlled by starvation and, although she didn’t feel the bite of the vampire’s teeth themselves, she feels their bite by proxy through the needles injected into her body that erase reality in their attempts to subdue and control her mind.

The psychiatric institution is a place of control, a place where tradition is denied and where the only reality that can be constructed is one of medical modernity, where the doctor desires absolute hegemony and nothing can interfere with her world. The medical profession is fundamentally about power and has no place for any power that it cannot explain.

The skill of Kilpatrick’s prose in this story can be seen by her ability to alternate between the descriptive sterility of the hospital and the colourful livelihood attributed to the Romanian village that Nita comes from – the rich mythological stories full of dark gods and betrayed love and the richness of the colours of the mountains themselves (though the predominant colour is the blood red that seems to infuse every aspect of this traditional landscape).

Kilpatrick’s love of intelligent, conflicted characters can be seen in the construction of Nita, a woman who is fundamentally brighter than the medical doctors and psychiatrists who seek to control and limit her. She is infused with a darkness, a burning guilt that the medical profession, with its cold logic and inability to see past its own viewpoint, cannot approach. Kilpatrick reminds her readers that an open mind is needed when approaching every issue and that limiting oneself to one’s own perspective only denies the depth and reality of a situation.

While reading The Vechi Barbat, the reader can feel the white, dead walls of the institution closing in on him or her, suffocating any creativity and anything the medical profession cannot control. The reader shares in Nita’s frustrated helplessness, denied voice and power until Kilpatrick releases them at the end of her story, with a reminder that the only escape from psychiatric control may be the danse macabre with death himself.

Nancy Kilpatrick’s short story collection Vampyric Variations (in which you can find The Vechi Barbat) will be released in October 2012 by Edge. To read more about it, go to . To read more about Nancy Kilpatrick, explore her website at  and enjoy my interview of Ms. Kilpatrick later this week on Speculating Canada.

SteaMacabre or SpectrePunk?

A Review of Paul Marlowe’s Knights of the Sea(Sybertooth Inc., 2010)

Photo courtesy of Paul Marlowe

By Derek Newman-Stille

Submarines are the maritime SteamPunk equivalent of the airship.  In his Knights of the Sea, New Brunswick author Paul Marlowe explores Victorian era Nova Scotia through the lens of a quirky cast of characters including several teens that are considered too smart for their age, a Russian sea captain, a part-time cabby / full-time reporter, several specialists in the etheric realm, a cast of spies, a fish-addicted cat, and a silver-spoon addicted werewolf. With this cast of characters, what can you do but put them into a conspiracy involving a prototype submarine, a eugenics-mad group, a sabotaged political bid, smuggling, and assassination? Canadian history has never been so deadly, or so exciting. His fictive account of Canada’s past is infused with humour, the otherworldly, and the message that it is important to question everything.

Marlowe makes the sea come alive as a character in his novel, creating a permanent presence of the salty and the liquid, and making the land and sea a slippery, in-between place where sea, land, and the supernatural mix with the ebb and flow of the tide. The use of a submarine in the plot of the novel brings the theme of submersion ‘to the surface’, illustrating the way youth (and particularly precocious young Victorian girls) often are submersed by the needs and requirements of family and society in general, losing themselves to the tide of what is proper.

Marlowe facilitates the steady interaction between Canada’s past and the fantastic, forging a bond in the reader’s mind that brings figures and places from Canadian history alive and yet gives them the aura of mystery and the magical. Directed at a teen audience, Knights of the Sea encourages a passion for Canadian  history and the desire for the reader to find out more about the events of Canada’s past through the infusion of the mythic.

The theme of heritage is strong in this novel, with characters seeking their own historical roots and some characters even affecting accents and behaviours of their ancestral places of origin. Both Scots and werewolves in this novel search for their roots and seek some understanding of themselves through their own heritage and history, encouraging the reader to similarly look at themselves as part of a tradition rather than strictly modern. The past is present in this novel both with its setting and the passion it inspires for the examination and exploration of the past (and speculations about the hidden parts of the past).

Marlowe’s work is also fundamentally political, challenging readers to reflect on the silencing of children and the general ignoring of insights by young people. Through the insights of youth and the youthful desire to question everything, plots are uncovered and things that adults have ignored are brought under speculation. Knights of the Sea uses eugenic conspiracies to question and critique neo-Darwinian notions of progress and the idea that destruction will naturally lead to more advanced economies and inventions. Readers are encouraged to question a system where social policy is kill-or-be-killed. The SteamPunk Victorian setting of the novel, where invention and progress are at a point of new acceleration, emphasises this need to question the concepts of progress itself and the social underpinnings defining progress as advancement of the few at the expense of the many.

Knights of the Sea is a fusion of the SteamPunk and the mythic, unifying the fantastic, steam-powered inventions of the Victorian era with the Victorian interest in the supernatural and what they called the “etheric”. The Victorian era was a period of interest in the supernatural and, particularly, a passion for discovering the scientific and medical underpinnings of the supernatural: so a supernatural SteamPunk is a brilliant meeting of science and the spiritual.  Even when lost at sea chasing mad inventions, the spiritual world intervenes in this novel in subtle ways, casting its spectral shadow over the scientific rationalism of the characters, and presenting itself as an ever-present question.

One of Marlowe’s protagonists, Elliott is the perfect figure for this exploration with his interest in both the medical sciences and the Etheric Explorer’s Club, and his passion both for rational explanations and equally strong passion for a woman whose werewolfism makes her behaviours at times inexplicable to the non-lycanthropically inclined. The novel opens with a mixture of Victorian voice and the written cadences of classical pulp fiction narration and this intermixing meant that the only words I could think of to describe this fusion were SteaMacabre or SpectrePunk.

You can discover more about Paul Marlowe at and can read his notes for the novel at . You can pick up a copy of Knights of the Sea at

Between Worlds

A review of Charles de Lint’s Mulengro (Orb, 2003)

By Derek Newman-Stille

Charles de Lint’s novel Mulengro: A Romany Tale is fundamentally about culture clashes and the competing interests of tradition and insularity against cultural assimilation. Mulengro is about a group of Gypsies (Romany people) who are being hunted by a man (called Mulengro by the Gypsie leaders) who is trying to hold on to his view of what the Romany should be. He views the modern Gypsies as marhime (impure) due to their exposure to Gaje (non-Gypsy) culture.  Mulengro’s ideas are born out of the Nazi concentration camps of WWII where Gypsies were tortured and murdered with the Nazi ideology of racial purity, but, rather than fighting against notions of racial purity, Mulengro internalises them and begins his personal quest to try to purify the Gypsies of any impurities from contact with Gaje and return them to his notion of what Gypsies should be. After reading this novel, even looking at the name “Mulengro” on the cover of the book inspires a shudder and the reader often worries that the echoes of the name in his or her mind might call something out from between the pages.

De Lint creates a sense of ominous horror in Mulengro where the shadows themselves are fearsome and the creep of the fog is the breath of spirits and spectres of evil. De Lint takes his reader into a realm of magic, but, as is normal for his books, that magical realm is both awesome and awful at the same time – it is a place of both incredible beauty and incredible fear and the awareness of magic is itself a step into danger. He reminds us that knowledge of the supernatural means that the supernatural now knows about us as well and not everything in the otherworld is happy and filled with light. De Lint’s world is one that is dark and terrifying where the reader questions everything and is reminded that his or her very foundations are shaky.

Mulengro is a novel of border-walkers, people on the fringes, straddling two (or more) worlds and trying to find their identity between socially defined boundaries. His characters are disenfranchised Gypsies, Romany who are trying to fit in with Gaje culture, a hippie trying to continue to live in the 60s as all of the idealisms of the era have dissolved around him, police officers who are haunted by the spirits of victims.

De Lint explores the clash that occurs when the insularity and secrecy of the Gypsies comes into contact with the insularity of the police; when the inexplicability of Gypsie mysticism confronts the police need for concrete, easily explainable answers. Yet, de Lint brings these conflicting communities into confrontation together, challenging them to forge a community out of difference, diversity, and distrust (and that community doesn’t just include the living).

Characters find themselves between the worlds of ethnicity and majority, tradition and modernity, flexible truths and The Truth, living and dead. Mulengro provides important lessons, challenges, and questions for those of us who straddle social borders – those of us who see the shadows at the fringes of the light because we are, ourselves, relegated to the fringe.

Mulengro is one of de Lint’s older books, but is still worth being discussed, and still socially relevant. You can explore more about Charles de Lint at